Yangsze Choo’s bestselling debut novel has been adapted to the screen in Netflix’s The Ghost Bride.
Series Review: The Ghost Bride (2020)
Yangsze Choo’s bestselling debut novel has been adapted to the screen in Netflix’s The Ghost Bride. Although it digresses from its source material, this Taiwanese-Malaysian production is still an engaging watch. No, it’s not true to the book per se. But, yes, it does capture the essence of the book: the paranormal creepiness and the central conflict of a young woman trying to find her path in life. A life path she chooses herself, whether out of duty and familial responsibility or following the dictates of her own heart.
An Afterlife Whodunit
Twenty-year-old Pan Li Lan (Huang Pei-jia) is living a somewhat isolated existence in 1890’s Malacca, as the only daughter of a widowed spice trader, whose trade has been drying up. They are getting poorer and poorer. And pressures are mounting to find as good a marital match as possible under the circumstances for Li Lan.
There are not a whole of options open to her in this society. She is already over-the-hill at twenty in terms of the marriage market.
So, when the rich and powerful Lim family extends an invite to a big party at their mansion, the Pan crew (Li Lan, her father, and her amah) are bewildered but excited. This is an opportunity to make a match. But maybe not the match they were hoping for.
Li Lan’s childhood crush Tian Bai (Ludi Lin), is back after years abroad at medical school. He is a member of the Lim family, a nephew, who is now the heir, as his cousin has recently died. But family matriarch Madame Lim has some strange designs of her own. She proposes marriage to Li Lan on behalf of her dead son Tian Ching (Kuang Tian).
Yes, she wants Li Lan to be a ghost bride, a woman married to a dead man, who will spend all her days in luxury but officially mourning a man she never really knew. Sure, the marriage would offer financial security to her family and even a form of autonomy for herself, but would it be worth it to be a lifelong widow denied love and children and family.
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Stuck in this dilemma, Li Lan starts being haunted by Tian Ching. He terrorizes her with vivid dreams, drawing her to the underworld, demanding her acquiescence, threatening her and her family. Plus, Tian Ching is convinced he has been murdered. So, when Li Lan’s father falls into a mysterious coma, she knows that Tian Ching has had something to do with it.
To save her father, Li Lan makes a deal with the devilishly handsome Tian Ching. She has ten days to figure out who murdered him, then he will release her father. If not, she must submit to be his bride.
Let the gumshoeing begin.
Enter Er Lang
Seeking to find out the truth about Tian Ching’s sudden death, Li Lan carefully enlists the aid of Tian Bai, who remains friendly but distant. Which causes much emotional confusion for Li Lan.
And then there’s this mysterious, irritating, sardonic servant in the Lim household, who always seems to show up at the most inopportune times. Often with a sarcastic comment or two. He is Er Lang (Wu Kang-jen), and he is much more than meets the human eye.
Under circumstances which I won’t reveal here, Li Lan ends up in the afterlife with the roguish Er Lang as her companion. There are ghosts aplenty, familial intrigues, skeletons in closets, exorcisms, corruption in this life and the next, murder. The dead are among the living, and the living are among the dead. Boundaries are crossed.
Who killed Tian Ching? Why? And how is Tian Ching so influential in the afterlife? Why does he want Li Lan? Just who exactly is Er Lang? What is Tian Bai hiding? And how will Li Lan choose to live her life?
See The Ghost Bride to find out.
A Diverting Paranormal Adventure
The Ghost Bride and its six episodes fly by. I watched it before I read the book and found the series entertaining. I have since read the book and can see just how many liberties have been taken. But it in no way changes the initial experience for me. It remains fun.
The Ghost Bride has a good balance of creepiness, romance, and folklore. It’s something of a dark fairy tale, an Asian variant of Persephone and Hades (well, that’s what popped into my head while watching). The creepiness never goes too far, just enough for some good, Gothic, cozy shocks every now and again.
It’s beautifully filmed, although decidedly not keeping accurate to late 19th-century garb and dialogue. The soundtrack and costuming feel very modern at times. So, it’s a bit of a mash-up. And I enjoy a good mash-up. The Ghost Bride is a good one.
As far as romance goes, I enjoyed the love quadrangle. Our lead actress is solid and believable, and sympathetic. And all the male possibilities are well-played and engaging. I really loved the beautifully bad Tian Ching, who does not have much to redeem him other than his beauty. Tian Bai is reliable, charming, handsome if a bit stick-in-the-muddish.
And then there’s the rogue Er Lang, who is played with eye-twinkling panache. He is truly a delight. And the banter between him and Li Lan is delightful.
The series ends on a good note, although there is a tiny little cliffhanger involving that rogue. So, here’s hoping for a season two.
Content Note: The brief horror elements of this series have upped the rating to TVMA territory (at least in Europe, where I am), which I find quite unfair. It’s a very clean series except for some creepy ghosts and afterlife stuff. We’re talking PG-13 territory.
Where to Watch: You can watch The Ghost Bride on Netflix.
Have you seen The Ghost Bride on Netflix yet? What are your thoughts on this paranormal romance series? Let’s discuss in the comments!
Photo Credits: Netflix.
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My
feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me
to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”